"Asian", "Anal"..."Art"? PornHub’s new exhibition brings voyeurism to the LA Arts District
The year is 2007. It is my first year of college, I just came out as “gay", Nancy Pelosi is elected as the first female speaker of Congress, Steve Jobs reveals the first generation iPhone, and PornHub, one of the most well-known websites for pornographic material today (a hub for porn, if you will) is born. Considering Apple’s historic dedication to privacy and censorship, it’s tough to say whether or not Steve Jobs could have imagined the impact his devices had on mobilizing the porn industry. Surely, I did not anticipate the the rate at which body positivity, sexual encounters, even the act of watching porn – historically done in the privacy of one’s home – would soon be promoted and shared instantly to anyone in the world with a signal.
Fast forward to 2018, when I hosted a tantric masturbation workshop at my gallery in Chicago. After receiving some instructions and exercises from the sex therapist in attendance, the ten of us streamed multiple erotic videos (courtesy of PornHub) while masturbating in a room together. Ten years prior, this “sinful” act I once had to speed through in fear of getting caught...riddled with anxiety at school, distracted by the debilitating reality I may have forgotten to clear the browser cache on my family computer, could now be explored and performed in public, with multiple people. The Jetsons could not have predicted this.
Generally speaking, my only association with PornHub a few years ago was a place to go, in private, to get myself off. But philanthropy is also one of the site's strong suits. Their executive team responsible for my weekly orgasms is undoubtedly content being affiliated with words like “bareback” and “bukkake”. But, their less-known charitable efforts, dubbed PornHub Cares, have so far funded education, saved animals, fought breast cancer, and vowed to protect our privacy (even when our government wouldn’t).
I wouldn’t consider PornHub’s new LA Arts District exhibition, The Pleasure Principle, as a philanthropic endeavor more than I would a marketing campaign, but it showcases a side of porn I - and likely many others - rarely experience without explicitly searching for it. On display on Maccarone Gallery and curated by Lukas Hall and Michele Maccarone, The Pleasure Principle is a voyeur’s dream and a testament to how sex consumption has changed since PornHub was founded twelve years ago. Porn, once synonymous with “pervert”, has persevered into “posh”, tickling our senses and libidos at the same Los Angeles gallery which, only months prior, exhibited Jim Carrey’s political drawings. Whereas Carrey’s opening consisted almost solely of celebrities and upper echelon ass-kissers, The Pleasure Principle opening flourished more overtly with all races, genders, sexual orientations, body types, classes, ages, and so on.
Upon entering the space, my attention was immediately pulled toward a 10x10ft three-dimensional face hanging on the wall. Comprised almost solely from metal scraps, its eyes covered, with a mechanical mouth that moves up and down, I suspected the contraption to automate on its own. A few moments later, a character wearing close to nothing but a mask and a nose "backpack" walked out from a back room and slinked slowly and silently toward the large face, requiring a ladder to climb up on a seat just above the mouth. The “driver” of the large face gripped some pulleys and brought it to life - uncovering its eyes, automating the dirty, yellow-toothed mouth, and projecting an idea of a lazy, nasty, robotic entity going through the motions of performing fellatio with little excitement, interest, or skill.
Other notable pieces include a decades-old documentary on transexual surgeries, a Joan Rivers television snippet on voyeurism, and a wall of six televisions streaming different fantasies (including women who shoot milk out of their asses, and white women being fucked by black men reciting “you’re so deep” in every segment). Surprisingly, almost every piece of the exhibition is photographable. The one exception to this, which completely caught me off guard, was a 12” by 16” square cutout in the wall, with plexiglass separating you from the scene behind it: a naked womxn lying on a chaise lounge, their legs spread, being drawn live by artist Delia Brown. A voyeur watching a voyeur - how meta.
Most of the mediums on display uplifted female (identifying) narratives... a breath of fresh air, to say the least, considering women in porn are historically portrayed - even in PornHub produced features - as submissive vessels whose sole purpose is to please and swallow their male counterparts' veiny meat sticks. The Pleasure Principle is a bold move for PornHub and Maccarone, and I expect it will pay off. After attending numerous openings at the space - including Jim Carrey’s - this was especially well-attended and represented. I’ll admit - of the countless hours I’ve spent on PornHub, most (if not all) of the content on display at this exhibition is not something I’d consciously search for…And I think this is why the exhibition exists. And why it is important. We all have preferences or saved searches of what gets us off, but sex is for everyone, and The Pleasure Principle is an unexpected and pleasant reminder of this reality.
The Pleasure Principle is open through November 23rd.
Featuring works by: Lynda Benglis, Amy Bessone, Louise Bourgeois, Delia Brown, Kathe Burkhart, Nao Bustamante, Cameron, Renee Cox, E.V. Day, Martha Edelheit, Mary Beth Edelson, Tracey Emin, Karen Finley, Trulee Hall, Hilary Harkness, Ann Hirsch, Marilyn Minter, Narcissister, Bettie Page, Laurie Simmons, Annie Sprinkle, Anita Steckel, Doris Wishman, Bunny Yeage
300 South Mission Road
Los Angeles, CA 90033